Colombia Solidarity Campaign

- Fighting for Peace with Justice -



by Santi Carneri

22 July 2016


Land is the greatest source of wealth in Paraguay, with an economy founded on the production and export of beef and genetically modified crops such as soya. But the industry is dominated by a small group of large landowners that, despite representing just 2.5 per cent of the population, own 85 per cent of all the country’s arable land, according to Oxfam.

Martina Paredes, sister of Fermín and Luis, two of the farmworkers killed in the Curuguaty massacre, mourns their death at the scene of the incident.

(Santi Carneri)

Disputes between the large agribusiness companies, the state and farming communities are routine in Paraguay. A tragic example is the “Curuguaty case”, a massacre in 2012 not yet fully investigated, that left 17 police officers and farmworkers dead as a result of a dispute over public lands.

The massacre led to the removal from power, one week later, of the only progressive government Paraguay has had for half a century.

In a ruling made public this week, 11 peasants were convicted for their involvement in the clashes that led to the deaths of 17 people on 15 June 2012.

That day, some 300 police officers were sent to evict approximately 70 peasant farmers from lands they were occupying with a view to having them included in the agrarian reform, in the rural district of Curuguaty, in the department of Canindeyú, around 100 kilometres from the border with Brazil.

Whilst police officers and farmworkers were negotiating over the eviction, the head of the police operation was gunned down by shots fired from automatic weapons (the investigation by the Public Prosecutor has failed to explain from where the shots came).

The shooting unleashed armed clashes that left dead 11 peasant farmers and six police officers from the special operations unit, according to the testimonies given by dozens of witnesses during the trial that began in Asunción in mid 2015 and concluded on 1 July 2016.

The incident led to the impeachment and removal from the presidency of former bishop Fernando Lugo.

No investigation of 11 farmworker deaths

According to the Public Prosecutor, armed farmworkers had set up an ambush for about 300 special police sent to evict them. He accused them, during the trial, of intentional homicide, criminal association and illegal occupation of land, and called for prison sentences of between five and 30 years.

The defence, for its part, called for their acquittal, contending the whole process had been a travesty of justice, a view shared by international observers and human rights organisations.

The court in charge of the case condemned the 11 defendants to between four and 30 years in jail, at a session taking place in the midst of incidents and protests over the verdict. During the trial, the court only ruled on the deaths of the police officers, as the Public Prosecutor’s Office never investigated the deaths of the 11 peasants during the massacre.

The heaviest sentence was served to Rubén Villalba, condemned to 30 years in prison and five on probation for the intentional homicide of Erven Lovera, the superintendent in charge of the eviction that led to the massacre. Three other peasants were judged to be co-perpetrators: Luis Olmedo, condemned to 20 years in prison together with Néstor Castro and Arnaldo Quintana, who both received 18-year prison sentences.

The three women tried, Fany Olmedo, Dolores López and Lucía Agüero, were sentenced to six years’ imprisonment as accomplices to the homicide, whilst Felipe Benítez Balmori, Adalberto Castro, Alcides Ramírez and Juan Carlos Tillerería, were condemned to four years in jail for illegal occupation of land and criminal association.

The court also ruled that the defendants should cover the cost of the trial, considered to be the longest hearing in the history of Paraguay, initiated on 27 July 2015 in Asuncion and in which almost 200 witnesses testified.

The United Nations, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, European legislators and non governmental organisations, such as Oxfam orAmnesty International, have called for a case review and the civilians, the only ones tried for the massacre, to be acquitted, given the failure of the Public Prosecutor’s Office to investigate the role of the police and politicians in the death of the 11 peasants.

“There is no evidence against them. They should be acquitted straightaway. What they’re trying to do is to criminalise the fight of landless peasants, but every Paraguayan deserves to have a bit of land,” Martina Paredes, the sister of Fermín and Luis, two of the farmworkers killed in the massacre, told Equal Times.

She spoke during a protest held at the close of the trial by hundreds of people in front of the Public Prosecutor’s Office in Asunción.

According to Paredes, the Public Prosecutor’s Office did not investigate the deaths of the campesinos. It only conducted investigations into how the police officers were killed. There has been no investigation into the massacre itself, who provoked it, and why.”

“Fermín had been shot in the leg and was lying on the ground when he called me. I’m sure he was executed afterwards,” she added.

Paredes recalls that in addition to the 11 people tried, a young peasant girl, who was a minor when the crime took place, is still undergoing a separate judicial proceeding, the start of which was postponed on several occasions.

Land titles dispute

The victims’ relatives are calling on the justice system to determine who owns the lands where the massacre took place and that have been at the centre of a dispute between the Paraguayan state and the private company Campos Morombí.

The lands were donated to the state in 1967 by the company La Industrial Paraguaya (Lipsa) and were used as a military outpost by the navy, which is why they are commonly known by the name Marina Kue.

Campos Morombí, however, a company that owns a large estate bordering these lands, claimed ownership of them based on usucaption - the acquisition of a right to property by uninterrupted and undisputed possession for a prescribed term.

Campos Morombí belongs to the family of Blas N. Riquelme, a historic leader of the Colorado Party during the dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner (1954-1989). The lands known as Marina Kue are part of the list of ill-gotten lands, those taken over illegally during the dictatorship, covering eight million hectares across the country, according to a report by the Truth and Justice Commission (CVJ), published in 2008.

The Curuguaty massacre was used as a pretext for the then-opposition and now ruling Colorado Party to launch impeachment proceedings against President Fernando Lugo.

Lugo’s removal from power was deemed “irregular” by international bodies such as UNASUR, and led to Paraguay to being suspended by Mercosur, which considered Lugo’s ousting to be a break with democracy in Paraguay.

Paraguay is the Mercosur country (a group that also includes Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay) with the highest concentration of land in the hands of a few.

It is the country with the biggest cows raised in the region, yet two out of 10 Paraguayans consume fewer calories than required to live a healthy life. That proportion places the country among those ranking the worst in the continent, just behind Haiti and Guatemala.

The most affected are the farmworkers: 80 per cent of Paraguayan campesinos, approximately 35 per cent of the population of 6.7 million inhabitants, have no land to farm. In Paraguay, only 6.3 per cent of arable land is used for small-scale farming, an amount far too low to supply fruit and vegetables to the whole country. Paraguay has long imported products from Argentina and Brazil that could be produced by its peasant farmers, according to the report published in June by the economic research and capacity-building NGO, Centro de Análisis y Difusión de la Economía Paraguaya (CADEP).

Some 31 million hectares are concentrated in the hands of the agribusiness sector, whilst the campesinos, who represent almost half of the population, hold just 1.9 million hectares.

Over the last decade, some 900,000 people have abandoned the countryside in Paraguay for precarious settlements in the capital, due to the expansion of the large-scale, highly mechanised soy and corn plantations requiring little labour, according to the national federation of campesinos FNC (Federación Nacional Campesina), which is calling for land reform.

This forced yet silent mass migration, like the Curuguaty massacre, is the result of the Paraguay’s extractive economic model.


This article has been translated from Spanish.


Our solidarity with the condemned Paraguayan campesinos

July 2016

SOA Watch wishes to make known to the international community our complete repudiation of the convictions — ranging from 4 years to 35 years in prison — which were recently passed on landless campesinos in Paraguay as a judgment for the “Massacre of Curuguaty”. That massacre took place on June 15, 2012, during the process of an eviction which had been ordered by local authorities, and in which six policemen and 11 campesinos were killed.

These unfortunate events, it is recalled, were used as the pretext to initiate an “express train” impeachment of the democratically elected  President Fernando Lugo, removed without due process and without a fair and impartial trial.   The result, that President Lugo was removed from office,  is considered by many to be, effectively, a coup d’etat.

Regarding the trail of the Paraguayan campesinos, it is important to keep in mind that no official of the Paraguayan police was ever charged or investigated  for the death of any of the 11 campesinos in the “Massacre of Curuguaty”, despite the strong suspicion that several of the injured​ campesinos were ​then ​extrajudicially executed at point blank range soon after the original rain of bullets.

We also bear in mind the report of the SOA Watch Human Rights Observation delegation,​ which visited Paraguay in April 2013, and expressed grave concerns about this case in a written report and public media interviews.  We wrote that “people must not be deprived of their freedom because of generic accusations, without conclusive evidence or without certainty of identification of the alleged perpetrators.  We consider it a grave violation of human rights to keep people in prison without proof and in many cases simply arbitrarily detained”.

The SOAW Observation Mission heard testimony of torture against the detained campesinos and"various testimonies, in parallel to the prosecution, that complained of the summary execution of several of the 11 deceased campesinos”.

"We believe that the tragedy of Curuguaty, starting from the murky legal (land title) arrangements which set the background, has serious irregularities which demonstrate the manipulation of the State apparatus by those with true power and by mobsters. As declared by the Justices of the Supreme Court, the lands of Marina Cue were not the property of the Riquelme Family but were donated years before by a company,  Industrial Paraguaya, to the Paraguayan state, who nonetheless neglected to put their name on the title to the land. That is, neither the Paraguayan state nor the Riquelme family held the titles to the property. In this way, the police invasion (disguised as a raid) to evict the occupants was clearly illegal. In our report  we pointedly  questioned the legality of police action which led to the slaughter. More than four years after these occurrences, we must conclude that justice has not been served for the condemned campesinos ​n​or for the dead.

One of the defense lawyers, Victor Azuaga, told the press that the sentence is deplorable for its lack of evidence: "There is no corroborating evidence.   And the material evidence is not reliable either. The weapons which were seized, according to the prosecution itself,  had not be shot, as shown by the paraffin tests on the dead campesinos  (who had allegedly fired at the policemen). The tests were negative and that means those people could not have been responsible for offenses ".

Therefore, we again express our solidarity with the convicted campesinos and with their families, and with the social organizations and human rights organizations who have accompanied them all these years crying out for justice.

We join our allies SERPAJ-Paraguay who “roundly reject the sentences" and together with ​SERPAJ-Paraguay​ we demand ”a review of the case, and for a mistrial to be declared in the case, because defects at the origin of the case prevent the basic conditions of fairness and thoroughness".

Finally, there remains open and pending the burning question to which ​the Paraguayan state ​still ​needs to  respond, ​clearly and objectively: “What really happened at Curuguaty?

Justice is still pending...

In solidarity,
SOA Watch


Support the ‘red mantas’ march to save La Guajira’s children

Guest blog by Emma Banks, Vanderbilt University, USA. Colombia Solidarity Campaign is planning a solidarity action in London on 9 August.

The children of La Guajira, Colombia are dying of malnutrition. On August 9, civil society groups will come together in the “Marcha de Mantas Rojas” – a follow-up to the Mantas Negras protest and the May 1 March to demand that the Cerrejón mining corporation and the Colombian government stop exploiting their territory and water.

Over the last 8 years in La Guajira, Colombia, almost 5000 children have died from malnutrition.  According to Colombia’s National Statistics Administration, almost 28% of children under 4 suffer from chronic malnutrition in La Guajira.  Media portrayals of La Guajira focus on the poverty and misery of Wayuu children, blaming state corruption and abandonment.

Yet La Guajira did not always have a chronic malnutrition problem.  Until the arrival of mining in the 1970s, La Guajira produced more food than it consumed.  Peasant, indigenous, and Afro-Descendant communities hunted, fished, planted crops, and participated in commercial agriculture.  Since 1984, the Cerrejón open pit coalmine has deforested 12, 000 hectares of land, displaced thousands of Afro-Colombian and indigenous people from their territories, and taken over traditional hunting and gathering lands.  Now the mine plans to divert the Arroyo Bruno, a tributary stream that provides life-sustaining water to thousands of people, animals, and small farms.

On August 9, unionists, indigenous peoples, Afro-Colombians, peasants, and civil society groups will come to together to deliver the message: “ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.”  They will march wearing red – the women in traditional “manta” dresses – to symbolize the connection between the death of Mother Earth and the death of Wayuu children from malnutrition.   They will deliver a petition to the Colombian state and the Cerrejón mine demanding the end of childhood deaths caused by irresponsible use of their territory and water by mining.  They are demanding an immediate halt to the Arroyo Bruno project, the creation of a development fund for La Guajira from mining profits, and a rural resettlement for displaced Afro-Colombian communities where they can become productive farmers once again.

Please consider donating to this important cause and sharing the information in your networks.


Colombia: a choice between mining and food?

By Richard Solly

Last month, I represented Colombia Solidarity Campaign on a delegation organised by US organisation Witness for Peace to La Guajira in northern Colombia. We went to visit communities and workers affected by the massive opencast Cerrejón coal mine, owned by London-listed companies Anglo AmericanBHP Billiton and Glencore.


Urgent Action - Tolima

Original in Spanish:

On 3 June in the department of Tolima over 120,000 people mobilised for the 8th Great Carnival March. In the departments of Caquetá and Quindío there were also cultural demonstrations against large scale mining projects (part of the Colombian government pro-mining policy known as the Mining Locomotive).

In a peaceful, cheerful, cultural but firm manner, we rejected the national government’s dictatorial imposition of an economic model based on extraction, the spread of which would affect the right to water of those of us living in this land of Colombia, and of future generations.

Our slogans, which call for the guarantee of the right to water, to a healthy environment, but above all the universal right to life of human beings and nature in general, continue to lead to persecution and stigmatisation, not only by the government, but also by armed groups that wish to perpetuate Colombia’s socio-environmental conflicts.

We reject the threats, made through pamphlets, that the self-proclaimed Águilas Negras (Black Eagles) paramilitary group are purportedly making against the Environmental Committee of Tolima, against the Congress of Peoples, the Patriotic March, the Regional Indigenous Council of Tolima (CRIT), the National Indigenous Organisation of Colombia (ONIC), the Agrarian, Campesino, Ethnic and Popular Summit, organisations defending human rights and the mayor of Ibagué, Guillermo Alfonso Jaramillo.



17 March General Strike

The three main union federations and many social organisations have called a general strike in

Colombia on 17 March against the policies of the Santos government.

The unions’ demands include:

  • · A decent increase in the minimum wage
  • · No to cuts in pension and health provisions
  • · Freeze prices of essential products
  • · Opposition to privatisation of major state asset, Isagen hydroelectric company
  • · That the government implements the agreement it made with farmer

and indigenous organisations.

The social organisations and trade unions repeated their support for the peace talks taking place between the government and the guerrilla groups (FARC and ELN), but they insist that the government has to adopt political, social and economic measures to alleviate the crisis facing ordinary Colombians.


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London Mining Network


The London Mining Network (LMN) is an alliance of human rights, development and environmental groups. We pledge to expose the role of companies, funders and government in the promotion of unacceptable mining projects.

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